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News and comment

Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #150 (on a Thursday)

We generally close the blog down over Easter so, as Ben had already done his column, you are getting it a day early.
Ben on a chair

[Ben Reeve Lewis'  is off to the US of A ...]

The USA has always been my top holiday destination.

I’ve never been but have always dreamed of sitting on red vinyl bar stools in those evocative 1950s diners, eating Pastrami on Rye or ordering eggs over-easy.

Or wandering into a New Orleans bar to eat Gumbo to the sound of some crinkly geezers whacking out Zydeco on accordions to a largely biker/Cajun audience.

Next month I finally get to go, all flights and expenses paid, courtesy of Frazzy’s travel work, but to Orlando which she reliably informs me is not REAL America and is as far away from chilli-dogs in Arkansas as you can get.

Italy in Orlando

We are in fact staying at a resort called Portofino, a complex built brick by brick to resemble the Italian fishing port of the same name.

I confess to stamping my foot a bit. I mean, if I want Italy I’ll go to Italy. How ungratefully petulant is that?

But if the denizens of Florida can get it together to rebuild an entire Italian fishing port, surely we could get it together to just build…….well, anything.

Losing the plot on building

Hannah Fearn wrote this week in the Guardian of the failure of this government to get us going housing-wise.

Hannah points out something I didn’t know, that government stopped funding the Housing Market Review last year. I wonder why? Ponders she and I sarcastically.

However, the CIH stepped into the breach to save this useful piece of research which has yet again thrown up some inconvenient truths for the Eton Mess.

“There are 981,000 “household spaces” (homes, basically) with “no usual resident” – that’s 4.3% of the entire household space in the UK.

Meanwhile, we have 250,000 sharing households in the UK, and 2.6m concealed households that include 245,000 couples or lone parents.”

Putting her finger on the correct point she adds:

“Government has lost its grip. Releasing the report, CIH chief executive Grainia Long calls for more development. We need new homes, but we need much more than that to see this crazy situation stabilised.

We need a government that looks at the whole of the housing system, not just the political flashpoints”

Empty homes in Oxfordshire

And the empty homes nonsense mentioned by Ms Fearn is also being felt in Oxfordshire. A recent article in the Oxford Mail revealed that there are more homes lying empty for more than 6 months than there are people on the housing waiting list.

As the article unfolds, various interested parties wade in to counter the figures in ways that protect their jobs and kudos and provide examples of successful action they have taken but none of it manages to massage away the fact that Britain’s housing market on all levels is as mad as box of frogs and as Hannah Fearn said, “Out of control”.

Problems with Posh People

Even success brings its downside. The research arm of Knight Frank this week revealed that well-heeled Londoners seeking to relocate to prime rural locations with trendy restaurants and good links to the capital such as Oxford, Bath and Winchester are pushing up prices in those areas as well.

Many of these types are taking advantage of high prime London prices to sell to foreign investors who leave them empty as stable investment options. As the International Business times article points out:

“London’s house prices are being driven up by a number of factors.

Foreign investors view prime London property as a secure asset. These investors, many of whom are looking for a safe haven because of political or economic troubles in their native states, can often pay in cash.

So high foreign demand drives up prices in prime areas, which then spill over into outer neighbourhoods”.

I might be over-simplifying the causes here but it does seem that in this area of troubled housing policy at least (take your pick from the myriad problems on offer) the buying power of the wealthy is putting pressure down the chain, landing squarely on the mum of three on housing benefit, priced out of accommodation by the benefit cap and forced to relocate to Huddersfield.

A place lacking the trendy restaurants and good links to the capital. Although I’m sure it has other charms (he quickly adds before any Huddersfield readers launch a Fatwa).

Affordable housing problems

Writing over on Red Brick the excellent and ever perceptive Steve Hilditch does an Emperor’s new clothes job on Boris Johnson’s London Housing Strategy.

Mr Bumble states for the record that London needs to build 16,000 new homes for social rent each year to meet demand, but detective Hilditch highlights the Mayor’s emphasis on the laughably titled “Affordable” social rents.

Seasoned housing watchers will know that affordable rents are 80% of the market rent, which in London is actually anything but “Affordable” to most.

Not Boris but Ken (and Gordon)

But Red Brick doesn’t stop there. He also sticks the boot into Johnson’s claimed successes, pointing out that they were actually predecessor Ken Livingstone’s successes;

“It takes a long time to finance, plan and build homes. Johnson inherited Ken Livingstone’s 2008-11 programme, funded in full by Gordon Brown’s Government until 2010.

It was a big part of Labour’s National Affordable Housing Strategy. This one Labour programme delivered a huge slice of what Johnson now claims as his achievement – 11,500 homes in 2008/09, 12,600 in 2009/10, 12,500 in 2010/11, 15,400 in 2011/12, and as many as 6,800 in 2012/13, 5 years into Johnson’s mayoralty.”

Rant alert

I confess that as time goes on I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with the incompetence covered by deceit, logic bending statistics and downright lies that is the default mode of politicians from all parties when covering their appalling grasp of the complex web of housing issues.

How can they bleat on about the single, vote-winning issue of increasing homeownership whilst ignoring the much warned of risks of a bubble that got us in this mess in the first place?

Why cant they see the connection between the reluctant landlords of the last few years who were unable to sell, now getting out of the landlord market and evicting tenants who have acted as caretakers for their properties for the past 5 years when they have done nothing wrong,? Not to mention it’s knock-on effects to homelessness.

Why, following the wet winter we had and criticisms from the environment agency about flood defences can they support and authorise the building of a Garden City (Ebbsfleet) on a flood plain that they have already been warned about?

How do these idiots ever get voted in?

Selling soup

In my frustration I confess I often harbour daydreams of leaving housing and its ups and downs behind, just to sell soup on a farmer’s market stall.

The simple life. No politics, no seething anger, just onions and carrots in broth sold to smiling chilly people. I’m good at it too.

Recipe of the week

So forget what was to be my last gripe of the week about ineffectual, self-serving tosspots. I’ve worn myself out. Have a soup recipe instead, its better for you.

Parton Bree
Sweat Onion, Celery, Fennel and Parsley in butter. When soft add a splash of brandy and burn off the alcohol. Add a pint of milk, a pint of chicken stock and a handful of rice and cook for 20 mins. Add brown meat from a crab, blitz the whole concoction, strain it and add the white crab meat and some fresh chopped parsley. Bingo.

Forget government’s astonishing ignorance and incompetence over joined up thinking on housing, at least for lunch and tuck in.

See ya next week.

Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #149

Ben on a chair

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Ben on a chair

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Ben on a chair

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.


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